Folger Shakespeare Library showcases great performances, a museum and, naturally, the Bard's glorious words.
Tue, Apr 6, 2010
Museums Off the Beaten Path
Small? Yes. But these five museums are pretty wonderful and worth exploring.
We love the obvious standard bearers of D.C. museums—the National Gallery, Air & Space and Natural History—but the off-the-beaten-path museums below will put a grin on your face. They’re less crowded, affordable and, yes, compelling. Here are five we love:
The National Museum of Health and Medicine (6900 Georgia Ave., NW; 202/782-2200; nmhm.washingtondc.museum/index.html). Definitely not for the squeamish. But if giant hairballs, real skeletons and preserved embryos strike your fancy, you’re in luck. This truly fascinating museum explores medicine’s impact during wartime spanning from the Civil War to a view inside a former tent hospital in Iraq, in addition to educating the public about rare diseases and offering up anatomy lessons. Even cooler? Check out the actual bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln in an exhibit dedicated to his final hours and commemorating his 200th birthday.
Folger Shakespeare Library (201 E. Capitol St. SE; 202/544-4600; folger.edu). It’s all about the Bard, but served As You Like It, whether through “modernized” plays of Shakespeare classics, a glimpse at the First Folio collection of all of his plays or settling into the Library and reading about this famous playwright. Keep in mind that there’s far more to discover in the museum—it also plays host to fascinating exhibits about Renaissance artists and other cultural arenas, while the theater showcases singers and poets in addition to its talented actors and actresses.
Laogai Museum (1109 M St., NW; 202/408-8300; laogaimuseum.org). Certain museums will leave you awestruck and humbled, and this spot in Northwest D.C. is one of them. The haunting museum depicts the horrors of the Chinese communist regime, specifically the Laogai prison, where millions of Chinese were imprisoned in unsanitary conditions for criticizing the government. First-person accounts along with eye-opening pictures and special exhibits are in the museum, created by Laogai survivor, Harry Wu. Small—perfect for a quick visit—but definitely worth it for the education you’ll leave with.
Charles Sumner School (17th and M streets NW; 202/442-6046). Also for history buffs, this is one of the first public school buildings specifically constructed for the education of Washington’s black community and named after a U.S. senator. The building is now home to a museum that displays D.C. public school memorabilia and sculptural vignettes honoring activist Frederick Douglass. The museum often plays host to diverse poetry readings and artwork, so be sure to check the schedule once you arrive.
National Postal Museum (2 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202/633-5555; postalmuseum.si.edu). Permanent exhibits include the history of mail service (way before UPS trucks blocked your driveway), postal technology advances and a feature on personal communication lending tribute to wartime letters. Famous faces are a staple in the museum—especially icons such as FDR, who used stamps to communicate with his fellow Americans. This one gets our stamp of approval (couldn’t resist…).